Very soon, I’m very glad I trekked up to Sapporo.
The city lies off the Shinkansen line but is the third largest city in Japan; this probably explains why the Sapporo-Tokyo air route is the busiest in the entire world. I suspect that in a day or two I may well be come the latest person to travel this route but, for now, I’m very impressed with Sapporo.
The station reminds me of Kyoto’s: it’s quite new, has at least three shopping centres attached – plus about 50 restaurants – and a JR hotel offering discounts to rail pass holders. Unlike Kyoto, however, this station is very easy to navigate and, crucially, it’s situated at the very heart of town.
As such, it makes for a wonderful base from which to explore the city. I have just a little while to wander about and so I seek out the “famous” Sapporo clock tower. Like Hakodate and Nagasaki, Sapporo was a port town opened up to the west much earlier than the rest of Japan and so has a number of nineteenth century buildings along with a very non-Japanese street layout.
Even from this quick nighttime tour, it reminds me – more than anywhere else in Japan – of New York with its grid system and bright neon-lit squares that are just jumping. This only makes it all the more unusual that a fairly nondescript western-style clock tower should be a symbol of Sapporo, but nonetheless it’s closely associated with the city.
I take a quick look and am, like Will Ferguson – with whose progress through Japan my own now coincides – suitably underwhelmed.
Far more interesting is the Sapporo TV tower, situated at the site from which Sapporo street addresses emanate. This is just about the only city in Japan with a logical street address system; modelled on a similar system to Washington D.C.’s, this TV tower is the equivalent of their capitol building.
Unlike the capitol building, the TV tower an open-air beer garden underneath as part of the Sapporo beer festival (this is beer country). Unfortunately, I’m too late to sample anything.
Energised by all this, I take a wander down to Susukino, which must be the liveliest night-time district north of Tokyo.
What glorious excess before bedtime. I silently add Sapporo’s simple two-line subway to my private list of underground systems taken and head back to the hotel.